Typhoon Running


The blue skies and calm seas of a few days ago were beautiful, but as soon as a stable weather system settles over the region, I start craving the next storm. The postcard prettiness of sunlit water pales compared to a typhoon's dark potency.

The Pacific was anything but pacific today--the ocean became a seething cauldron whipped by hurricane-force winds. While running on the dunes behind my home in Cannon Beach, a tornado touched down in Manzanita, about fifteen miles to the south. The energy, the power. I would have given nearly anything to watch lightning illuminating the twister from within as it made landfall.

Endorphins, nature's opiates, flood one's system during intense workouts and endurance exercise, creating a heroin-like narcosis. The amphetamine-like adrenaline surge caused by moving through a storm adds another potent drug to the chemical mix in a runner's brain.

When running in hurricane-force gusts, windblown debris can knock you unconscious. King tides kick up rouge waves that climb cliffs and can drag you out to sea. Widowmaker tree limbs fall in the forest. Dangers abound on storm runs, to be sure. But can the human heart stand the devastation of a life lived at a safe distance from nature's extremes? Evolution didn't prepare us to fill the empty hours of an existence separate from the struggle for survival. Evolution prepared us to be endurance runners.

Running in the rawest conditions that nature serves up in the Pacific Northwest is good for my soul, though not good for my eyes. Today my corneas were scoured by sand when I turned south and ran toward gusts howling seventy miles an hour, maybe more. (A 103-mile-an-hour gust was reported at Cape Meares.) Several times I was forced to run in place, pushing against the wind as though it were a wall. When I ran with my back to the wind, drifts of sand ghosted alongside me. Gusts whipped foam into knee-deep billows. Sometimes I ran at the exact speed of sheeting sand and rolling foam, creating a surreal sensation of being stuck in place while moving like a maniac.

When I head out into tomorrow's storm, which is being billed as one for the record books, I'll wear swim goggles to shield my eyes from abrasive sand. I'll also put on a raincoat with pit zips. I like to open the pit zips when I run with my back to the wind; the jacket fills with air, catching gusts like a sail and pushing me with such force I can barely move my feet fast enough to keep from tumbling forward. When the jacket inflates and gales shove me down the beach, I sprint at a blistering pace. This wind boost is as close as I'll ever get to running like Kate Grace, my Olympian cousin. It's also as close as I'll get to a state of transformative bliss.

I've tried stillness. Sitting meditation is not for me. I need the moving meditation of storm running. I crave the peace that comes with moving through chaos. I'm addicted to the white roar of tides that crash in stormy silence.

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